Bulls’ Zach LaVine feels he’s a max player, wants to be paid like one

Throughout the Bulls season, guard Zach LaVine was about the business of putting the team first, even ahead of his ailing left knee.

On Friday, with the 2021-22 season now in the books for the organization, he was about the business. Period.

Let the game of chicken begin.

Speaking to the media after his exit meeting with the front office and coaching staff, LaVine reiterated what he has warned for years: He views himself as a max player, and entering unrestricted free agency this summer, he wants to be compensated like a max player.

If that involves the Bulls — who can pay LaVine the most — that would mean a five-year deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $212 million total, and $42.4 million per year. If it means going elsewhere, it would be one less year, but still a deal with $40 million-plus per season.

While both sides have indicated in the past that they wanted to work out a deal to keep LaVine a Bull, even if that means going into the luxury tax area at some point, the Bulls were also hoping that the two-time All-Star would take into consideration that the more money he was willing to leave on the table, the more wiggle room they would have to help build the roster around him.

A nice concept, but LaVine sounded like he was out of the doing favors concept of this upcoming negotiation.

“I plan to enjoy free agency with what it is as a whole,” LaVine said. “I think you’re going to have to experience A-Z without making any fast decisions. I think that’s something that me and [agent] Rich [Paul] get to go through and experience.”

Translation: LaVine will be open to all offers.

That’s the Paul way and what Paul’s agency, Klutch Sports, brings to the table. Hometown discounts are nice … for other guys.

“I mean, I think it’s important to me,” LaVine said, when asked if being a max player was a priority. “But you get paid what you’re valued at, and I see myself as a top guy in this league. And I think I’ve proven that over the last four years. And I think that’s what we’re going in negotiating. I think that’s what [general manager] Marc [Eversley], AK [executive vice president of basketball operations], and Rich are going to have to discuss.”

A discussion that Karnisovas seemed very excited to have.

During his session with the media on Friday, Karnisovas stressed “continuity” in the organization, using that buzzword over and over again. That included bringing LaVine back if the two sides can find common ground.

“The thing is we have a relationship with him, he knows exactly what to expect here, and you know, we have a really good relationship with him,” Karnisovas said of LaVine. “The last two years have been the best years of his career, so we’ll see what happens.”

First things first, and that means LaVine taking the next week off to “chill out,” but then admittedly seeing his knee specialist in Los Angeles to figure out what the next move was to get him back to 100%. LaVine has been dealing with swelling and discomfort in the knee since early December, and a source told the Sun-Times earlier this week that the guard had already told teammates an exploratory surgery was needed.

LaVine was still trying to downplay that scenario, but admitted to how much maintenance it actually took to keep going, including “overtime” for the training staff.

“Once I get back to L.A., go see my doctor, communicate with him and figure out what’s the best plan of action,” LaVine said. “Right now, I don’t know. We’ll figure that out.”

Results that the Bulls would like to find out as soon as possible, but results that shouldn’t influence much.

Karnisovas was asked if the knee could be a sticking point in the negotiations with LaVine, and said, “No, I don’t think so.”

Don’t think so?

Game on.

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